More than two dozen Emmys, an iconic theme song, a writing staff that would go on to create many other TV hits, and innovative storytelling techniques — a large cast, overlapping dialogue, a focus on the characters' personal and work lives, an un-saccharine portrayal of those flawed characters — are among "Hill Street Blues'" TV-land legacies.
The 1981-87 NBC cop drama (which just got the Complete Series DVD treatment) not only helped turn around a last-place network, but it's no hyperbole to say the show changed television, for the better, in a way that current Golden Age of Television viewers continue to benefit from. But it wasn't always a smooth road to classic TV status. Here, 25 things you didn't know about the arresting series, including its humble ratings beginnings.
1. For its debut season in 1981, "Hill Street Blues" received 21 Emmy nominations and won eight of them, including the first of four consecutive Outstanding Drama Series statues.
"Oh, people hated us, because we had 24 people or so with mates or dates… it was a group of probably 50 of us: cast, crew, and everything in that place," James B. Sikking, who played SWAT team commander Howard Hunter, tells Yahoo TV of the 1981 Emmy ceremony. "Every time they named somebody from the show, we'd scream 'Yay!' We were thrilled, absolutely thrilled. But we also didn't want to take it too seriously, the winning of awards. You still have to do the work. The work is what you have to do to earn respect."
For its sophomore season, the show claimed all five nomination spots in the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series category, with Michael Conrad getting the win. "Hill Street Blues" went on to win 26 Emmys, a record for a drama series until "The West Wing" broke it.
2. The series ratings for its first season were less impressive. "Hill Street Blues" finished 87th (out of 96 shows) in the Nielsen ratings. "We were the lowest-rated drama in the history of television ever to get a second season," the Emmy-nominated Sikking says. Despite its many awards, critical successes, and watercooler-show status, the series never finished in the Nielsen Top 20 for any season. Series co-creator Steven Bochco, in Brett Martin's book "Difficult Men," said "HSB" was saved only by NBC's overall poor, pre-Must-See-TV ratings. "If NBC had been flush, I don't think we would have seen the light of day."
3. The performances spoke for how talented the "HSB" cast was, but it didn't hurt that some of them had friends in high places. Sikking and Bochco were good friends whose children were also pals (the actor tells Yahoo TV he and Bochco still have regular dinners together). Bruce Weitz, who won an Emmy for portraying Sgt. Mick Belker, was a college friend of Bochco's. And Emmy nominee Barbara Bosson, who played Fay, the ex-wife of Capt. Frank Furillo, was married to Bochco.
4. Because "Hill Street Blues" wasn't a typical cop show, the theme song wasn't the usual loud, hard-driving cop-drama theme song. Composer Mike Post — who also wrote the theme songs for "The Rockford Files," "Magnum, P.I.," "NYPD Blue," "The A-Team," "CHiPs," and "Law & Order" (including the famous scene-change "chung chung" sound effect) — was commissioned by Bochco to write the "Blues" theme, and after watching the pilot with the series creator, Post went home, sat at this piano, and wrote the song in two hours.
The tune became a Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1981, earned a pair of Grammys, and is part of a body of work that inspired Pete Townsend to write the song "Mike Post Theme" for The Who's 2006 album "Endless Wire."
5. "Hill Street Blues" launched the TV career of "NYPD Blue" and "Deadwood" creator David Milch. The former Yale writing teacher won an Emmy for his first "Blues" script — the Season 3 premiere, "Trial by Fury" — and went on to become an executive producer on the show, adding Writers Guild awards and a Humanitas Prize to his résumé.
6. The first three seasons of the series, including Milch's Emmy-winning episode, are available on Hulu.com.
7. Among the future stars who made "Hill Street Blues" guest appearances: Don Cheadle, James Cromwell, Forest Whitaker, CCH Pounder, Chris Noth, Laurence Fishburne, Tim Robbins, Andy Garcia, Edward James Olmos, Cuba Gooding Jr., Danny Glover, "Terminator" parents Linda Hamilton and Michael Biehn, Frances McDormand, Alfre Woodard, and a pre-Kramer Michael Richards.
8. Sammy Davis Jr. was a fan of the show, and wanted to make a guest appearance. "Steven put a reference to him in one of the shows. [Howard] Hunter is with Linda Wolfowitz and she says, 'I'm Jewish, and you'd have to convert if we were to marry.' And Hunter says, 'You mean like that colored entertainer?' When Steven ran into Sammy, he told him about it, and there was a moment when we both thought he wasn't going to think it was funny. But he loved it and started jumping up and down," Bosson told Playboy.
9. Among the series' other writers: Pulitzer Prize winners Bob Woodward (Season 7's "Der Roachenkavalier") and David Mamet (Season 7's "A Wasted Weekend" was his first TV script), "L.A. Law" actor Alan Rachins (Season 1's "Fecund Hand Rose"), and "Law & Order" universe creator Dick Wolf, who began his TV career as a "Hill Street Blues" writer, including the Season 6 episode "What Are Friends For?" which earned him his first Emmy nomination.
10. "Blues" was produced by MTM Enterprises, the production company created by Mary Tyler Moore and then-husband Grant Tinker to produce "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." The company's famous logo, which featured Mimsie the kitten meowing at the end of MTM shows, was tweaked for "Hill Street Blues": Mimsie sported a police hat.
11. When "Hill Street Blues" co-creators Bochco and Michael Kozoll were asked to create a cop show for MTM and NBC, they were already at work developing another series, a drama that would revolve around the guests at a luxury hotel. Aaron Spelling launched a similar series, "Hotel," in 1983.
12. Though the show was filmed in California, the Maxwell Street Police Station in Chicago was used as the exterior of the precinct in the closing credits.
The building, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996, now serves as the home station for the University of Illinois at Chicago police department. And the building's exterior once again stands in as a TV series police station… on Dick Wolf's "Chicago PD."
13. Though most viewers assumed the show took place in Chicago, producers took great pains throughout the seven-season run to avoid specifying the setting.
14. Dennis Franz played two different, completely unrelated characters on the show. In Season 3, he played corrupt cop Sal Benedetto, who was killed off after five enull